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SOCORRO, N.M. May 8, 2012 – Two mineral engineering undergraduates received competitive industry scholarships recently. Lee Gagnon and Renee Kafka were selected by professional groups to receive awards.

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Lee Gagnon is a mineral engineering major and an avid long-boarder. He also won two scholarships from industry groups.

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Renee Kafka is a sophomore in mineral engineering. She earned a two-year scholarship from a coal mining industry group.


Gagnon is a junior who graduated from Albuquerque High School. He received a $5,000 scholarship from the Underground Construction Association of the Society of Mining Engineers.

“This helps a lot with tuition … and books,” he said. “Oh man, that’s going to be amazing. I can't help but be thankful to someone who would give up their money to make a stranger's dream come true.”

Gagnon wrote an essay about the growing importance of copper in the modern economy. He also was interviewed by the scholarship committee.

In addition he will receive $1,000 to travel and attend the North American Tunneling Conference in Indianapolis in June. That’s not all. Gagnon also earned a $1,000 “Best in the West” scholarship from the International Society of Explosives Engineers.

“I’ve always liked exploration,” he said. “I grew up in the South and I always liked exploring the woods and I’m fascinated with the Earth. I turned toward mineral engineering because I like problem solving.”

Mojtabai, in his nomination letters, wrote that “Lee is one of the most intelligent and dedicated students that I have known over my 20 years of teaching experience.  I have found him to have an insatiable curiosity, an ability to learn quickly, and a strong desire to be the best at his chosen endeavors.”

Gagnon will put his interests to work this summer. He has an internship at the Chevron Mining molybdenum operation in Questa, N.M.

After graduation, he hopes to work in the infrastructure of mining.

Kafka is a sophomore who graduated from Las Cruces High School.

She earned a $5,000 award from the Rocky Mountain Coal Mining Institute. Her award is $2,500 for each of her next two years in school. In addition, the Institute is covering her expenses to attend a conference in July in Vail, Colo., where she will officially be presented the award.

“I was very excited,” she said. “My goal is to find a job that I want to do for the rest of my life … and this helps me get there.”

Kafka wrote an essay and was interviewed by the scholarship committee. Her bid was supported by a nomination letter from professor Dr. Navid Mojtabai.

He wrote that Kafka “is a very bright and energetic young lady. … She is very reliable and extremely helpful. Rene is a fast learner and has a great attitude towards her responsibilities.”

Her career goal is to be a blasting engineer and design blasts for mines.

“With a mineral engineering degree, I can go anywhere,” she said.

This summer, Kafka has an internship in blasting at a underground limestone quarry in Tennessee.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech